Sunseeker Chapter 4
Late in the morning of the 14th June we paid our harbour dues to Roddy, the Harbour Master, before we sailed for a return visit to Campbelltown to have the VHF aerial replaced. As Roddy is also coxswain of the Girvan lifeboat we joked with him of our rescue, two years before, by the Spurn Point lifeboat in the River Humber. Casting off our mooring lines he remarked, much too prophetically, that this may not be goodbye, for we may return!
The day was fine and sunny with just a ghost of a breeze coming, of course, from Campbelltown. We were quite happy to leave the sails furled and potter along with the engine. Nine miles out, with Ailsa Craig abeam we had to alter course to pass well astern of a pair of fishing boats. Back on course we were horrified to hear a piercing, screeching noise from the engine room under the doghouse floor. Seconds later blue smoke was billowing up through the gearlever slot. As quickly as possible I moved the gear lever into its neutral position and stopped the engine. The gear lever was jammed in position and could not be moved either way.
By this time, one of the fishing boats had turned and was heading back towards us, still with his fishing gear down. We left the engine for the time being as I went forward to hoist the sails, leaving Rene on the helm to try to bring Sunseeker’s head into the wind. With the fishing boat coming closer all the time we did our best to get out of his way. The wind was now growing stronger, still from northwest and probably being funnelled through the Kilbrannan Sound between Arran and the Kintyre Peninsular. Close-hauled on the wrong tack, we were getting much too close to the fishing boat. I decided to wear ship, that is, to gybe right round, away from the wind to make sure of bringing Sunseeker onto the other side of the wind. She sometimes refuses to tack through the wind, which is fine with plenty of sea room. But, with thirty tons of fishing boat, towing nets bearing down on us it was too much of a risk. We did get round and out of his way. But, if he needed to alter course for us we don’t know!
For more than an hour we beat hard on the wind trying to reach the Kilbrannan Sound but made little progress. The wind, still increasing, was a good force five now, whipping the water into short, steep waves. Sunseeker was pounding heavily and falling off the top of each wave, throwing spray high into the air and over the decks.
After we decided to abandon the trip to Campbelltown and go with the wind we enjoyed a wonderful evening sail. With the sun low over the Isle of Arran and a good, steady wind over the port quarter, Sunseeker was showing us that she had no need of an engine. Past the brilliant white lighthouse, standing tall on the tiny island of Pladda, with sheets eased, we flew along. When we could see Holy Island to the north we altered course slightly for Troon. By eight o’clock we had sailed into the lee of Arran and slowed to almost a standstill on a flat, calm sea. Through the channel between Holy Island and Arran, yachts in the Lamlash anchorage shimmered in the golden light of the low, summer’s evening sun.
We had plenty of time to reflect upon our situation. Sunseeker’s gearbox was probably seized solid and would need major repairs, if not total replacement. Troon, although a very safe harbour, we knew from a visit two years previous is an expensive marina. Not a very good place for us, and our meagre budget, to spend any length of time. Girvan seemed to be drawing us back. In Girvan the mooring fees, though far from non-existent, are much less than Troon. Also, from our very recent visit, we were sure that one or two people there might be able to point us in the right direction for mechanical help.
So, after talking it through and deciding upon a return to Girvan, we gybed Sunseeker onto a new course to take us south along the coast. It wouldn’t be an easy entry through the narrow breakwaters with a wind behind us. We mustn’t arrive too early. Half flood tide would be needed to be sure of enough water at the entrance. How to stop Sunseeker safely without hitting other boats or the pontoon? Will the fairway be clear? All these thoughts passed through my mind.
Leaving the shelter of Arran, Sunseeker gradually picked up speed; so much so that we reefed the sails to slow her speed. She was really showing us how well she sailed, but to arrive too early could really cause more problems than necessary.
Our trip to Campbelltown had been for the sole purpose of getting our VHF radio aerial fixed. So we were amazed to get a response, loud and clear, to our call to Clyde Coastguard. We explained that, although in no immediate danger, our engine was out of action and we might, quite possibly need a tow into the harbour on our arrival off Girvan.
“Stand by, Sunseeker” ordered the voice over the radio.
A few minutes later the coastguard told us that the Girvan lifeboat was putting to sea for us and should be visible to us very shortly!
By about half past nine we had Turnberry Lighthouse on the port beam. Sunseeker was heeled over nicely to a steady, westerly, beam wind with a surprisingly high swell, making about five knots. The sun was, by this time, very low over the mountains of Arran and we were really enjoying a wonderful sail. A little later we sighted the lifeboat pounding towards us through the heavy swell, ahead and inshore of us. As they came alongside we took the sails off Sunseeker, wallowing in the swell, awaiting further instructions.
Roddy, our friendly Harbourmaster cum lifeboat coxswain concentrated hard to skilfully manoeuvre his powerful craft alongside, enabling one of his crew to transfer to Sunseeker. He was shouting instructions to crew members fore and aft, but, above all the din from massive, powerful engines, we heard clearly the command to the man preparing to cross over.
“And tell them both to get their b****y life jackets on!”
Yes we were guilty of this omission. Rene hastened below to dig out our ancient life jackets, which were sheepishly donned. The crewman was safely transferred and, with Roddy carefully manoeuvring the lifeboat’s towering stern to Sunseeker’s bows, a towline was passed and made fast. The noise of the urgent engines was deafening. Soon, as the throttles were steadily opened, the lifeboat gathered way, the towline became taut and Sunseeker obediently took up her station in the boiling, surging wake.
On passage for Girvan Harbour, our crewman told us of his orders that included getting safely onboard Sunseeker. Roddy, he said, had warned him of the very narrow sidedecks on which to land as he crossed over. But, whatever else happened he must not, under any circumstances, tread on the cat!
As our speed increased Sunseeker began to range about in the wake of the lifeboat, making steering very difficult. Following a radio discussion with his skipper, our new friend deployed a sea drogue from Sunseeker’s stern, streaming it in our wake. The effect was quite dramatic and immediate. Sunseeker followed a much straighter course and the steering was very noticeably much easier. From a newspaper report read later, we learnt that this was the first time this device had been used for real in an actual rescue. The crew was very pleased with its performance.
Approaching Girvan, the last of the daylight left us. In the rapidly deepening twilight the harbour lights beckoned. Beyond the harbour, a floodlit Stumpy Tower stood out from the other town lights to welcome us back. Roddy carefully lined us up for the approach between the breakwaters. Although the directions of both wind and swell were from dead behind, their effects were rapidly reduced as we were towed upriver into the harbour proper. As Roddy’s earlier prophecy was fulfilled, our towline was returned to the lifeboat and we were told to steer Sunseeker alongside to starboard. Willing, capable hands beneath kindly, smiling faces held us in place as we were manoeuvred alongside one of Girvan’s fishing boats to lay for the remainder of the night.
Thanks were offered and acknowledged and, as the lifeboat returned to her mooring, peace and quiet returned to the harbour. People, who had turned out to watch the drama, drifted away homewards, leaving Rene and I to make a cup of coffee before making our way to bed. It had been quite a day.
End of Sunseeker Chapter 4